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Found an injured bird? Here’s how to help a bird with a broken wing

Do these 4 things right away if you find an injured bird

It’s hard to know when to get involved in the natural order of things, and many times, you’ll want to leave Mother Earth alone and let the ecosystem balance itself. But occasionally, the opportunity to step in and make a difference really does come along. If ever you stumble on an injured bird with a broken wing, you may be able to save her without harming nature in the process. Before you ponder how to help a poor flyer, though, make sure the bird is actually hurt. Some animals will fake injury to lead you away from a nest. If you’re certain the avian needs help, it’s time to spring into action. 

Killdeer pretends to be hurt to lure away predators

Can a bird survive a broken wing?

Yes, a bird can go on to live a long and happy life after their broken wing heals. One of the biggest threats during this time is predators, which is where you come in. A bird who can’t escape on its own needs a safe space, and you can provide it. But you don’t want to tame the animal (it’s not a pet, after all) or accidentally break the law (we’ll get to this part). 

Bird lands into a woman's outstretched hand in winter

Can a bird’s broken wing heal on its own?

Just as we’re designed to heal after a break, the average bird can recover from a minor wound without any intervention. Often it will be starvation or a predator, rather than the injury itself, that ends her life. However, a major break will need human help, including surgery, to get it back to normal and prevent infection along the way.  

Person holding wounded bird in hands
Gregory Johnston / Shutterstock

How long does it take for a broken bird wing to heal?

You’ll be surprised how quickly a small bird heals once you take care of the affected area. She could be ready to go after just one week. However, recovery can take up to a month for a more serious injury, and by that time, birdie will have lost some of the muscle definition needed to fly, so she’ll need some rehabilitation. Sadly, breaks can be so severe that they defy recovery, and the humane thing to do will be to put her down (but make sure you have an expert take care of this).

Vet examines a falcon's wing

How to help a bird with a broken wing

Now that you’re ready to take action, you need to figure out what to do to assist your infirm friend. Remember that there may be laws in place here, as strange as that sounds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and a few other rules, actually prohibit you from taking some birds out of the wild, even if you’re just trying to help. Do the proper legal research before picking up an animal and bringing her home. Then, follow these four steps to take care of her.

Call a vet or rehabilitation center

In addition to complying with the law, you also want to make sure that the injured creature gets the best care possible. You may be able to find a local center with tons of experience that will take in the bird from start to finish. It’s crucial to know exactly how bad the break is and whether it needs surgery, both of which require a vet. That’s the first step: find help in the form of an expert.

Capture the bird and transport it to a safe location

Hurt birds go into shock very easily, so watch her carefully and don’t do anything that might scare her, even unintentionally. If you have a bird carrier, one you use for your own pet, you can place your charge in there. Otherwise, get a small cardboard box (with plenty of holes) and use that for transportation. It can help to wrap her in a towel first so as to prevent further damage, and make sure she stays warm and comfortable.

Set the wing and bandage it

Your professional partner will help, but it may serve you well to know how it works in case you need to step in. The wing should be set against her little body in a natural position, but don’t force it in and make things worse. Then, secure a bandage around the wing and body to keep it still. Sometimes all she needs is a little swaddling and then resting time. 

Release the bird back into the wild

There’s a chance that the wing might merely be strained, and your feathered friend will be back out ready to fly off in no time. Otherwise, it can take a few weeks to get her on the mend. It’s important that she doesn’t become too domesticated, so it’s good for her to eat from an outdoor feeder on the ground when possible. Once she’s ready, she’ll fly away on her own.

A few things can cause broken wings in birds, namely cars, windows, and cats or dogs. Adjust your care methods depending on what got her — if you see cat scratches, you may decide to treat those first (don’t use chemicals though). Also, an injured animal means a scared animal. Wear protective gloves and be careful not to get yourself scratched or nipped while you help her get better.

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